Could a pair of suicide bombings that have left 31 people dead in Russia be a chilling prelude or tune-up for the upcoming Olympic Games while a Muslim terrorist leader has vowed to put Chechnya’s long-standing grievance with Moscow in the international spotlight? This seems to be a common feeling between many terrorism experts.
Although no one has claimed responsibility for the twin bombings which occurred less than 24 hours apart in the city of Volgograd, formerly know as Stalingrad, terror experts strongly suspect they were inspired and probably ordered by Chechen Muslim rebel leader Doku Umarov. Umarov, who calls himself the emir of the terror group the Caucasus Emirate, has called on Muslims to attack civilians and to prevent the Olympics from occurring.
The Olympic games which are scheduled to begin in six weeks in Sochi, a Black Sea resort about 400 miles southwest of Volgograd, are “Satanic dancing on the bones of our ancestors,” Umarov said in a video released online in July. The attacks, coupled with Umarov’s call for violence, will cast a dark shadow over the games, according to Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Security Studies and Director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.
“No Olympics in recent memory will commence as inauspiciously at the 2014 Sochi Games,” Hoffman said. “Although fear of a terrorist attack has been the staple of Olympics security for the past four decades, the back-to-back blasts yesterday and today, coupled with another attack in the same city in October, are likely to be the opening salvos in a sustained terrorist campaign.” Hoffman added, “This would be unprecedented in Olympic history and likely reflects the perpetrators’ intention to disrupt the games even before the opening ceremony.”
In the first attack, a bomber authorities believe may have been a woman detonated explosives in front of a metal detector just outside a train station entrance Sunday as a suspicious police sergeant approached to check the bomber’s identification. The officer was one of the 17 killed by the blast. Hours later, early Monday morning, a suicide bomber on a bus killed at least 14 people and left nearly 30 wounded, Russian officials said. The bombs were similar, according to Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for Russia’s main investigative agency. “That confirms the investigators’ version that the two terror attacks were linked,” Markin said in a statement. “They could have been prepared in one place.”
In October, a so-called black widow blew herself up on a city bus in Volgograd, killing six people and injuring about 30. Female suicide bombers, often widows or sisters of slain rebels, have mounted numerous attacks in Russia and are commonly referred to as “black widows.”
It’s possible Umarov’s operatives are already inside the security zone, said Jim Phillips, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Phillips said he “would be surprised” if there is not a terrorist attack during the Olympic games, but said he doubts it could be on a big scale. He continues, “they will find it difficult to move weapons or explosives around inside the zone.”
The rift between Russia and Chechnya dates back hundreds of years, and Sochi and other cities in the region were captured by Russia in the 19th century. Umarov and others view the Olympics being held in Sochi a provocation, held in territory they consider stolen from Muslims. Chechen Islamist separatists declared their independence from Russia in 1991 as the former Soviet Union broke apart. Russia reasserted its control over Chechnya in 1999 but several terror attacks in the North Caucasus have flared up since then, most notably a 2004 Beslan attack in which Islamic militants took more than 1,100 people hostage in a school. The siege ended in the deaths of more than 380 people including hundreds of children. In 2010, two female suicide bombers mounted an attack in the Moscow subway that killed 40 and a few months later a male suicide bomber struck Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport killing 37 and injuring more than 180. Umarov claimed credit for both of those attacks.
Chechnya is now run by Moscow-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, a former separatist who has been credited with stabilizing the region.